Google Cloud, now under the helm of former Neiman Marcus executive Carrie Tharp, revealed a new report Wednesday that lays bare retailers’ nerves over online sales over the coming Black Friday and Cyber Monday peak.
Less than half of the retail executives polled said they were very confident in their web site speed, at 42 percent, or its scalability, 45 percent.
“In past research, we know that seconds in lag time can mean the difference between a sale and an abandoned cart for a retailer, with 91 percent of consumers saying that they left a web site when they feel like it’s too slow and then 30 percent saying that influences or changes their thoughts about returning to that retailer in the future,” Tharp told WWD.
“Retail knows that peak season is of the utmost importance,” she continued. “And it’s all-hands-on-deck at all times. But really, how do you prepare in a way so you will not be the next headline [for] an outage or a challenge during the season?”
The jitters are well-founded, especially during a tumultuous year for retail, with bankruptcies and high-profile closures dominating the headlines. The shorter holiday period doesn’t help. Over at Adobe, survey findings revealed that 41 percent of retailers are worried about having almost a week shaved off the peak shopping season, though two-thirds expect bigger sales this year.
The squeeze puts pressure on online channels and other digital initiatives, such as social commerce — not just for selling, but also to enhance brick-and-mortar experiences.
That’s why the “digital acceleration” is one of Google Cloud’s priorities. “It’s this focus of retailers on how they use digital capabilities to change the experience for their customers,” continued Tharp. “Channel is experience — so customers expecting customer service in Instagram and expecting, when they’re in store, for a retailer to understand what they might have been looking at online — and really helping retail accelerate their ability to drive that digital transformation.”
This focus and retail priority is also apparent in Google’s hiring of Tharp. She joined Google Cloud in August from Neiman Marcus, where she held the position of chief digital officer and chief marketing officer across the brands, including Neiman’s, Bergdorf, Last Call and Horchow. Now, as Google Cloud’s vice president of retail, she’s tasked with honing the company’s work in the shopping sphere and appealing to the retailers that are shaping it.
Right now, it looks like they could use the help. Her group’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday report illustrates some looming anxiety: Clearly most retailers aren’t confident about how their web sites will hold up next week. Meanwhile, at 46 percent, nearly half of the study’s respondents expect a significant increase in online traffic during the holiday kick-off, compared with last year.
“Retail has to be constantly on top of how they prepare for the continued swings in traffic,” said Tharp. “But we also saw in this report that 72 percent of these retailers have said they’ve had an outage in the last five years, and 24 percent of them saying they don’t really have a good plan in place if they do have an outage.
“So they’ve worked really hard to do their planning and prep. But how do you actually support the business and recover revenue if you have an outage. They’re less sure on what to do with that plan,” she added.
And the digital crunch looks like it doesn’t stop there. Adobe’s latest study fills in a bit more color on the innovation race: Fifty-six percent of retailers reported they’re pursuing experiential shopping features, such as mock showrooms and augmented reality experiences, while buy-online-pickup-in-store — aka BOPIS or “click and collect” — is seen as a major advantage by 94 percent of retailers…even though only 55 percent actually offer the service.
The one tech trend that still hasn’t found its retail footing is voice technology. While buzzworthy, the nascent tech only nabbed 7 percent of retailers, which are currently using it as a sales tool. But 62 percent plan are exploring future uses.